Tennessee School Board Bans Pulitzer Prize-Winning Holocaust Novel Maus | Holocaust
A Tennessee school board has banned a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from its classrooms for more than eight swear words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse.
The graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by New Yorker Art Spiegelman, uses hand-drawn illustrations of mice and cats to depict how the author’s parents survived Auschwitz during the Holocaust.
The graphic memoir elevated a pulp mass medium to art when it snagged a host of literary awards in 1992, but doesn’t seem to have impressed educators in Mcminn County.
Ten board members unanimously agreed in favor of removing the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum, citing its use of the phrase “God Damn” and drawings of “naked photos” of women, according to minutes taken from an education council meeting earlier this month.
“There is foul and objectionable language in this book,” said school principal Lee Parkison, opening the session’s opening remarks.
Parkison went on to say that he had “consulted with our attorney” and therefore “we decided that the best way to correct or deal with the language of this book was to redact it… get rid of the eight swear words and the image of women, this has been disputed.
Board member Tony Allman backed the decision to remove “vulgar and inappropriate” content, saying, “We don’t need to enable or promote this stuff.”
“I don’t deny that it was horrible, brutal and cruel,” Allman said of the genocide and murder of six million European Jews during World War II.
“It shows people hanging, it shows them killing children, why does the education system promote this stuff? This is neither wise nor healthy,” he added.
Allman also took aim at Spiegelman himself, alleging, “I may be wrong, but that guy who created the artwork used to do the graphics for Playboy.”
“You can watch his story, and we let him do graphics in books for elementary school students. If I had a kid in eighth grade, that wouldn’t happen. If I were to move him and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, that wouldn’t happen.
Mike Cochran, another school board member, described parts of the book as “completely unnecessary”.
“We talk about teaching ethics to our children, and it starts with father and son talking about when the father lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there,” Cochran said.
“We don’t need this kind of stuff to teach history to children. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nudity and all the other stuff.
Cochran offered to review the entire program over concerns that it was developed to “normalize sexuality, normalize nudity, and normalize offensive language”.
“If I was trying to indoctrinate someone’s children, that’s how I would do it,” he added. “You put this stuff just enough around the edges, so the parents don’t grab it, but the kids, they soak it in. I think we need to review the whole program.”
The decision comes as conservative groups across the country are stepping up campaigns to ban books from school libraries, often focused on works that address race, LGBTQ issues or marginalized communities.
The board had supporters with Julie Goodin, an educational supervisor and former history teacher, and Melasawn Knight, the federal programs supervisor, supporting the novel’s inclusion in the curriculum.
“I think every time you teach something from history, people have hung themselves from trees, people have committed suicide and people have been killed, over six million have been murdered. I think the author portrays this because it’s a true story about his father going through this,” Knight said.
“I can talk about history, I was a history teacher and there is nothing beautiful about the Holocaust and for me it was a great way to describe a horrific time in history,” said added Goodin.
After lengthy discussions about redacting the words the members found objectionable, the board ultimately decided that in addition to copyright issues, it was best to ban the graphic novel altogether.
Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the outcome in an interview with CNBC Wednesday. “It leaves me speechless, like, ‘What?'” the 73-year-old author said, adding that he thought the school board was “Orwellian” for approving the ban.
Spiegelman’s Jewish parents were both sent to Nazi concentration camps and his mother committed suicide when he was just 20.
“I’ve met so many young people who…learned things from my book,” Spiegelman said. “I also understand that Tennessee is obviously crazy. There is something very, very wrong going on there.